ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – A highly contagious, pathogenic strain of avian influenza, or bird flu, has found its way into the Big Country and the State of Texas for the first time in history, leaving poultry and fowl farmers worried for their birds.

There are two types of avian influenza: a low pathogenicity strain (LPAI) and a high pathogenicity strain (HPAI). The LPAI can occur naturally in wild migratory birds without causing notable illnesses to domesticated birds. However, the strain found in Erath County last week was determined to be the HPAI strain, meaning if found in your flock, it can be a quick-spreading, fatal disease for your birds.

Jaque Bullard has been raising everything from chickens to geese and ducks to guinea fowl since she was a young girl growing up in Buffalo Gap.

Between three kids and over 20 birds, there is seldom a quiet moment in the Bullard household. It’s a hobby and a passion she loves, pouring thousands of dollars and countless hours into her birds.

“I’m an animal lover all around, and having the chickens is something to keep my mind occupied and it’s also self-sufficient,” Bullard said.

However, when the news the HPAI had been brought into the Big Country, worry overcame Jaque. The thought of losing one of her beloved feathered family members became a reality.

“One of the first thoughts that came to mind was knowing if one of my birds or my neighbor’s birds tested positive for the avian flu, all of our flock would have to be pulled,” Bullard said. “That’s a scary thought. There’s a lot of time and money in this and I guarantee you I don’t make that money back selling their eggs.” 

Isolating and depopulating the infected birds is standard procedure for the avian flu performed by the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) in order to quickly and efficiently stop the spread.

Taylor County Extension Agent Steve Estes says there are several ways to prevent your birds from catching the avian flu. He said to be mindful of the interactions your birds have with wild birds, whether around water or feed, and consider isolation if need be.

“If you have a chicken coop, you can shut them up in that,” Estes said. “Be mindful where you let them out.” 

He also said taking extra sanitary measures when going back and forth between bird farms goes a long way, as many avian flu cases are spread through feces.

“You want to sanitize your shoes or boots before stepping back onto your property or vice versa,” Estes said.

Estes said there is good news for farmers, though. With only a month or so left in the migratory season, he said there is only a limited amount of time the spreading of the bird flu can happen. The avian flu also does not survive well in the hot summers, but could make a return in the fall.

Some symptoms to watch for in your birds are a lack of energy or appetite, nasal discharge, swelling in the face and legs, as well as a lack of coordination.

If you suspect that one or more of your birds have contracted the avian flu or have seen an abundance of dead wild birds, report it to the Texas Animal Health Commission for further investigation.

If you’d like more information and updates on the current HPAI spread in Texas, visit the Texas Animal Health Commission website. You will find a downloadable avian influenza fact sheet, as well as a list of current cases documented in the State of Texas.

There is currently only one confirmed case of HPAI documented in Texas, located in Erath County in pheasants.